Friday, June 1, 2012

Asheville Je T'aime

We were sitting in the Asheville Brewing Company when the doubts began to set in. A man with ear plugs and an easy friendliness had just served us a cast iron skillet balanced with samples of foamy beer and Mr. V was talking about possibilities but I couldn't hear a word he had to say. I was trying not to cry.

I had the Rockies on my mind. My people were prairie and mountain raised, pioneers moving ever westward and it's not a thing you soon forget. Your ancestral landscape gets into your blood and like it or not, in some ways you will always be the place you came from. Brevard was beautiful but it was a shock to my sensibilities and sitting in a bright, artsy city, I remembered where I was made. Craving one place and longing for the other, I never know where I might land.

We'd crossed the French Broad river, which I will never say without seeing a smoky-eyed woman pulling up her stockings, and made a right on a corner where The Thirsty Monk faced Jack In The Woods Public House. I might as well have been in Avalon or Paris. The Monk was a bright purple building, packed wall to wall on a string of similar tall facades, the streets loose brick that shifted beneath our feet and meandered around courtyards and bright alleyways, each one brimming with drinking, dining folk facing streetward, a la Parisienne. Plenty of bookstores, plenty of earthy chicks with scarves in their hair like me and legs that go a long time between shavings, also like me. (Sorry, my Californian sisters, but it's true). There were specialty stores for everything from pastries to wine to cured meats to dog biscuits, and this is exactly what I love about Edinburgh and Manhattan and all the great old cities. Asheville is known as the Paris of the south, and now I know why.

In Asheville it seems that the culture is the counter-culture, but no one's feeling smug about it like they are in Boulder. Perhaps because you get the sense that Asheville isn't a place where rich pseudo-hippies have settled because it's beautiful and has a Whole Foods, but a place where eclectic people, people normally on the fringe, have congregated and they ain't smug but so damn happy to have found each other in all this mess, and who woulda thunk but they've made a home.

Driving in to Asheville we'd spotted an old man waving a confederate flag from a bridge, but inside the city there was no such nonsense. The brewery was running over with young families. Mr. V was talking mortgages and I was craving babies, the surest sign of trouble I know. I shook myself back into the present and shifted towards sunny as we walked up Patton, past traveling musicians to Hayward and Battery Park Avenue, where I was reminded that there is history in the south, history involving names like Grant and Lee and Stonewall Jackson. After standing quietly taking in the view of the hills from the portico of St. Lawrence Basilica, my husband decided to take me out for a French dinner and we found Bouchon almost by accident. "This city should be a good place to get French," I said to Mr. V. "Asheville has a lot of French influence." Since this is my blog and we're into being honest here, I'll admit that this is one of those things I say more by instinct than by actual knowledge. But steering by instinct is what landed us here in the first place, so I went with it.

Bouchon was at the end of hill where we'd spotted a Japanese chef plucking herbs from his garden to use in whatever culinary mischief he was up to. We sat in the cobblestoned alley, filled with greenery and umbrellas and summer soiree lights. I ordered my first pate and my first Kir Royal and thought, if I can't have Paris yet, at least I have this. Mr. V ordered the canard a l'orange rubbed with cocoa nibs and I stuck to moules-frites. They tasted of the ocean and I sucked them down, happy as any sea star nestled in its proper bed.

We left Bouchon and were headed up the hill when the skies just broke right open, faster than a prairie thunderstorm. Look at that cute little cloud, I thought, and then suddenly the rain was too torrential to see in. We were standing just in front of a brewery, so having one more drink was the only thing to do. There was a deep covered patio, perfect for sipping and breathing in the scent of rain, the bright light on the art deco buildings just across the street, and smiling like we'd won the lottery. This is my favorite thing about traveling. You're just going along in your life and suddenly serendipity blesses you so certain you know there is good in all this limping, stuttering earth. I grinned wildy at Mr. V over a salty margarita and told him how I loved it when this happens. That's when it struck me that I've always said I want to live in a lively city and in the middle of nowhere, and that maybe in this part of North Carolina I could have both.

There are things I haven't told you: there is a Starbucks in Brevard, but it's inside a grocery store and while the local coffee spot makes a creamy, nutty latte, it has the ambiance of a Furr's in foreclosure. Mr. V says that when I saw his first paycheck from the brewery, I cried. I have no memory of this but I don't doubt it. What I know is that in the end, anywhere I go is going to become one more place I want to leave.

The next day it was time to head home. We traveled over four hours in the rain from Brevard back to Atlanta and when we got to the gate at 2:35, after running faster and farther than I have since college, our 2:40 departure had already left. We sat half the day in the Atlanta airport, so overstimulating I curled up on the floor with headphones in my ears and closed my eyes. I stayed that way until Mr. V brought me a frozen yogurt and it was time to board the plane and fly west, west over prarie, west toward home. We passed over a spectacular lightnight storm and watched great thunderheads light up rhythmically from the top side, clearer now than ever the way those clouds answer each other, a nebular call and response. Departure was at the tail-end of evening and a strip of electric blue sunset hung stubborn in the sky. We chased that last light of sun all the way home. We never did catch it.


  1. "...anywhere I go is going to become one more place I want to leave." This rings so true with me, too. And makes me feel ungrateful. I hope that feeling stays distant for a long time for you. I am so excited for y'alls upcoming adventure to the South. Asheville is so lovely and one of my favorite cities. Be expecting a visit from us! It's a perfect destination for holidays or a long weekend. You'll have to head west towards the Blue Ridge mountains and join us for hiking/exploring adventures. So beautiful and magical! Blessings and luck on this new journey.

  2. I can't wait until we can visit each other and hike those magical mountains I keep hearing about! We are so glad you guys will be close-ish. As for ungrateful, I don't know. I think God can love an urge to roam. There's just so very much out there to be grateful for.

  3. Such a magical portrait of Asheville. You should get a subscription to Garden & Gun magazine. It's not what it sounds like. It makes me want to drink mint juleps in a Southern artisan community. Just like your post did.
    NC is beautiful, albeit very different from Colorado. Plus, you know, The Avett Brothers.

    So is it a go? What an adventure!

  4. I am waiting with bated breath as well. Is it a go? As a girl who has lived in 6 states by the time she was 32, I can tell you - there will always be a reason to stay and a reason to go. But wherever you go, you can make a home there. You will find friends and life there. While I am most content here, close to my family, I was content everywhere. People are remarkably adaptable, and change is sometimes very welcome.

  5. But Lou, can't we just call them mojitos? Mojitos are literary (Hemingway) but mint juleps go with big hats and I only do fedoras. I keep trying to like the Avett Brothers. I still haven't managed it. The fault is mine, I know.

  6. Okay, now I want to visit Asheville. Like, right now...

  7. Go, Alissa! And I'm sorry for what I said about Boulder. It really is very beautiful and I do love Pearl Street.

  8. Culinary mischief, Paris of the south, steering by instinct... so many lovely phrases turned, but more importantly, what a tease of a story. Love everything you've shared here, and I want to know more. Children & babies are triggers for me, not sure of for the same reasons or not, and I do relate to that craving for "elsewhere" as well as the undeniable connection to home. More than that, homeland (mine is Oklahoma, always will be). Lusciously imparted days in a town I would now really love to visit! Thank you so much for the diversion.
    Have you been to new Orleans?

  9. Well now I'm aching to visit Asheville. And you, my dear, should visit Austin. Sounds like you'd dig it.

  10. Those little girls of yours might be Tar Heels!

  11. Marie, for me it's just that I'm done having babies, and I need to be done having babies because this year I finally have real time to write. But sometimes I want to hold a tiny baby again in the worst way. I have not been to New Orleans. I wish I'd seen it before Katrina. I want to see it, someday.

    Margi, come visit me in Asheville! I've been through Austin looking at colleges but have little memory of it. I bet I would love it.

  12. Ha! No worries about bashing Boulder. I love it (most times) but it's certainly far from perfect. :)


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